State Supreme Court Says Only Salaried Employees Are Protected By Health Care Whistleblower Law

Grad Student Brought Lawsuit After Medical College Of Wisconsin Terminated Her Internship When She Reported Wrongdoing

The state Supreme Court's chambers. Photo: t_yler (CC-BY-NC).

A ruling from the state Supreme Court clarifies who is and who is not protected by the state’s health care whistleblower law.

The ruling appears to narrow the scope of a law designed to protect health care workers from retaliation if they complain about wrongdoing they discover at a hospital or health care clinic. The 5-2 decision says the law only protects people who actually receive a salary from the institution they file a complaint against.

In this case, the Medical College of Wisconsin terminated the graduate internship of Asma Masri after she accused her supervising doctor of asking her to change the diagnosis of one of his patients who was planning to file a malpractice suit.

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Masri’s attorney Lawrence Albrecht said Masri, who worked a 40-hour week as an intern but received no salary, is part of a growing trend in health care industry.

“The workplace has become more filled with interns and alternative arrangements of work than simply the standard 20th-century paycheck world,” said Albrecht. “Interns right now are left with no protection under this whistleblowing law.”

Albrecht said the ruling should prompt the Legislature to rewrite the law so it will protect everyone who works in a health care setting from retaliation when they blow the whistle on wrongdoing.

The CEO of the Medical College, John Raymond, wrote in an email that the ruling was appropriate because Masri was neither an employee nor an intern but simply a student on an academic rotation.

Raymond wrote that there are anonymous ways for anyone to report ethical issues that Masri could have used, but didn’t. He also wrote that the hospital investigated her allegation and found it could not be substantiated.